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William McKinley


“You can, I am sure, appreciate the embarrassing position in which I am placed

by such unfortunate controversies as exists [sic] in your State."

William McKinley, 1843-1901.  25th President of the United States, 1897-1901.  Typed Letter Signed, W McKinley, one page, 5½" x 8½", on personal stationery, Canton, Ohio, May 15, 1896.

McKinley's candid and unguarded comments make this letter particularly desirable.  With his eye on the Republican presidential nomination, McKinley writes to fellow Ohio native Henry G. Morse, then a resident of Delaware, of the "embarrassing" and "unfortunate" fight over the Delaware legislature's election of a new United States Senator.  He writes, in full:  “I have yours of the 13th. inst. with enclosure and have duly noted contents.  /  You can, I am sure, appreciate the embarrassing position in which I am placed by such unfortunate controversies as exists [sic] in your State.  /  Whatever may be the result of the controversy, I want to extend to you the assurance of my sincere friendship and confidence."

The most prominent of three principal Republicans vying for election to the United States Senate was Henry A. du Pont, the politically active president of the Wilmington & Northern Railroad Company and the grandson of E. I du Pont de Nemours & Co. founder Éleuthère Irénée du Pont de NemoursFor several months in early 1895, the Delaware legislature was deadlocked in its varied support for du Pont and two other Republicans.  Unfortunately for the Republicans in the legislature, they waited too long.  Delaware Governor Joshua Marvil died in April and was succeeded by a Democrat, the Speaker of the Delaware Senate, William T. Watson.  When the legislature met in joint session on May 9 to select a new United States Senator, Watson, who was intent on defeating any Republican candidate, insisted that he had never relinquished his state Senate seat and that he could serve both as governor and as a state senator.  He therefore both presided over and voted in the joint session.  Du Pont received 15 of the 30 votes cast but did not gain the required majority.  Had Watson's vote not counted, du Pont would have been elected by a single vote. 

Whether du Pont had been elected weighed heavily in the balance between the parties and factions in the United States Senate on pending financial legislation.  On December 4, 1895, du Pont's supporters petitioned the Senate to seat him for a term beginning March 4, 1895.  Du Pont tendered a certificate of election from the speaker and clerk of the Delaware House of Representatives.  He argued that he had won if Watson's vote were not counted and that Watson's was invalid because Watson had illegally assumed dual roles in violation of the separation between the executive and legislative branches of government.  The Senate referred the matter to its Committee on Privileges and Elections, which the Republicans controlled.  Predictably, the majority Republicans reported that du Pont should be seated because Watson's vote was indeed illegal, while the minority Democrats argued that the offices of governor and state senator were not inimical because Watson was not actually the governor but instead was merely "exercising the office of governor." 

The Senate floor debate lasted some three months, during which Morse wrote to McKinley.  On May 15, 1896, the day McKinley sent this reply, the Senate voted 31-30 to deny du Pont a seat.  The Democrats outvoted the Republicans only with the votes of four Populists and one Silver Party member.

Morse (1850-1903) was an engineer, bridge builder, and shipbuilder.  He was a partner in the Morse Bridge Company in Youngstown, Ohio, before becoming president of the Eastmoor Bridge Works in Wilmington, Delaware, where he served when McKinley wrote this letter.  In 1899, Morse formed the New York Shipbuilding Company in Camden, New Jersey.  The New York Times reported that he was fatally stricken while visiting New York financier J. Pierpont Morgan and died at the Astor House hotel after arriving there unconscious in a private ambulance.  His presence at J. P. Morgan & Co. sparked rumors that the shipbuilding company's plant was about to be absorbed into a conglomerate.

As a footnote, the Delaware legislature later elected du Pont to two terms in the United States Senate, and he served from June 13, 1906, to March 3, 1917.  He lost in his bid for a third term when Delaware adopted popular election as its method for selecting its Senators.

Most of McKinley's correspondence from this period says little to nothing.  This letter therefore contains exceptional content for McKinley, who has signed with a huge, bold black fountain pen signature.  The letter has two horizontal mailing folds, neither of which affects the signature.  It also shows a bit of soiling and light handling.  Overall it is in fine condition. 




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